Flexipump turns vision into reality with Subscription Software
Sanjeev Pal posted on February 20, 2014 |

David Hutton, the founder and designer of Flexipump, started his firm in the United Kingdom with the goal of developing an affordable irrigation pump for farmers of the developing world. Several years ago, he realized that there were a variety of water pumps on the market suitable for small-scale farmers, but that farmers with less than a quarter acre of land had limited choices for irrigation. Hutton's vision was to create a- low cost water pump that would increase their income by getting the required amount of water in their fields and enabling them to become small commercial farmers.


Functional and Product Design Challenges
Selling in the developing world, Flexipump faces both sociopolitical and financial hurdles. Akin to the business constraints of many small startups, Flexipump also faced financial challenges in the development and testing cycle of the Flexipump including onsite testing in Zambia.  Keeping a low cost structure was critical so that the water pump could be sold at a lower cost to farmers.

Since the entire addressable customer base is located in a region that often lacks proper infrastructure and electricity, the Flexipump needed to be hand operated and ergonomically designed.  A self-priming feature was deemed necessary to avoid the initial water required to start the pump.  Adding to the design challenges, the entire pump assembly had to be designed such that farmers would be able to make their own replacement parts.

Addressing these challenges, required frequent modifications based on field testing, and several design revisions. Hutton quickly realized the difficulties of doing this manually. He needed a professional, computer aided-design software to achieve his ends.


The search for an affordable CAD solution
Since a key product requirement places affordability at the forefront, it was imperative that Flexipump kept operating costs low, which meant they couldn't afford the upfront expense of a professional CAD system.  Free CAD packages were available, however, they lacked certain features the company required. It was a bit of a conundrum.

Eventually Hutton turned to the forty-five day trial version of Solid Edge Foundation (later buying the monthly subscription model). On the decision to choose Solid Edge as his design tool, Hutton said, "The reasons why I am sticking with Solid Edge now rather than anything else: one would be the monthly subscription model; second it's a program I know, having being taught at university even if it was an older version I can pick it up much more intuitively. I am going to stick with it."

Flexipump is able to collaborate with their design partner in the UK seamlessly, because they also use Solid Edge so there is no time and data loss.  They exchange IGES files to convey the design intent for manufacturability with their Italian manufacturer, using Drop Box for file sharing and Google Translate to overcome the language barrier. Flexipump's design and manufacturing ecosystem is depicted above.

In addition to the financial relief, the Solid Edge monthly subscription model brought a lot of capability to the table for Flexipump. For one, the embedded Synchronous Technology helped Flexipump modify design features based on the pump's manufacturability and the feedback from field-testing – all without having to manually redesign the entire pump.  Moreover, by pushing and pulling surfaces in the existing design, the team found that the program automatically makes adjustments to the other designs features (within the constraints of manufacturability).

Finally, the Solid Edge monthly subscription model also offered Flexipump the same customer support as they would have received for a recurring license model – with no extra fees.

When asked how he would do things differently in the future, Hutton said, "My whole approach would be to start thinking bigger earlier on (at the start of the project); I probably would have gone to professional CAD software rather than to struggle on with free software. I would have got involved with professional CAD much sooner with the aim of building more quickly."

To learn more about Solid Edge monthly subscription

To learn more about Solid Edge 45 day free trial

Solid Edge University – Atlanta – May 12-14, 2014


Siemens has sponsored promotion of their design solutions on ENGINEERING.com. They have no editorial input to this post - all opinions are mine.  Sanjeev Pal

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